Are you getting enough sleep? Or maybe you want to sleep better during the hours you are resting? Not getting enough sleep can cause a host of problems during the day, such as trouble concentrating and memory loss. According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per night. 1 Unfortunately, many people aren’t getting the sleep their body needs. An estimated 50 to 70 million adults in the United States have some type of sleep disorder, including insomnia. 2 If you’re finding yourself nodding off at your desk, or if you feel like you’ve counted a zillion sheep as you desperately try to get some shuteye, you’re not alone.
In 2015, Americans spent $41 billion on sleep aids, such as prescription and non-prescription pills. 3 But what if the answer to better sleep was in your gut? Recent evidence has shown that your gut has an enormous impact on the quality and duration of your sleep.
What Is Your Gut Microbiota?
Around 100 trillion microorganisms exist inside your body, most of them in your gastrointestinal tract, also known as your gut. You may think microorganisms living in your body would be a bad thing. Not so – these microorganisms help you break down the nutrients in food, protect you from disease, and may even impact your mental health. 4
Research has shown that a diverse gut microbiota is crucial for good health. 5 A diverse gut microbiota is made up of many types of beneficial microorganisms, including bacteria and yeasts.
How Does Sleep Influence Gut Diversity?
According to recent research, your gut microbiota plays an important role in the amount and quality of your sleep. Nine men participated in a 2016 study from Uppsala University in Sweden. 6 The study showed that partial sleep loss made the gut microbiota less diverse for study participants. Researchers determined that the men had less kinds of helpful bacteria in their guts after their sleep was disrupted.
How Does the Gut Microbiota Influence Sleep?
The brain plays a vital role in sleep. 7 Scientists now believe your gut and your brain are more interconnected than was previously thought. 8 This makes having a healthy gut crucial to a good night’s rest.
Current research has shown that your gut microbiota influences sleep in several ways.
One way is by the production of serotonin – a chemical that transmits information between nerves. An estimated 80 to 90 percent of your serotonin is made in your gut. 9 Serotonin is related to mood, including anxiety and depression. It also helps your brain regulate sleep.
Another way your gut influences sleep is through the regulation of your circadian rhythm. This is your body’s internal clock, which determines when you eat, when you sleep, and when you feel awake. 10 Research has shown that your gut microbiota has its own circadian rhythm, which is intertwined with yours. 11 When this rhythm is normal, you are more likely to experience natural, restful sleep. And when it’s disrupted, you may experience sleep disturbances.
Your gut microbiota has also been shown to be affected by the levels of melatonin in your body. Melatonin’s main job is regulating sleep-wake cycles. For example, your body will make more melatonin when it starts to get dark to signal the body that sleep is near. Conversely, light triggers to your body to decrease melatonin production, thus getting you ready to wake up. 12 A study from the University of Kentucky found that your gut bacteria is sensitive to the amount of melatonin in your body. 13
How to Get a Healthy Gut Microbiota
Now that you know how important a healthy, diverse gut microbiota is to a good night’s sleep, you’re probably wondering how you can increase your gut diversity. Here are a few ways:
- Eat a healthy diet. The Mediterranean Diet – an eating plan rich in fruits, vegetables, lean protein, fiber, and healthy fats – has been shown to help increase gut microbiota diversity. Saturated fats and artificial sweeteners have been shown to have a negative effect on the diversity of gut microbiota, so limit your intake of these. 14Studies have also shown that adopting a healthy diet can help diversify your gut microbiota within just three to four days. 15
- Keep the same eating and sleeping schedule. In order to keep your circadian rhythm and that of your gut microbiota consistent, try to eat and sleep around the same times each day.
- Take probiotics. Probiotics are just like the microorganisms already present in your gut. Many people ingest probiotics to help their existing gut microbiota. Taking probiotics daily has been found to promote gut microorganism diversity. 16 Probiotics can be taken as supplements, or obtained from certain probiotic-rich foods, such as yogurt with active cultures, kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, and kimchi.
- Exercise regularly. A study from University College Cork in Ireland found that exercise boosted gut microbiota diversity in professional rugby players. 17 But you don’t have to be a pro athlete to reap the benefits of a great workout. Exercise can also help you sleep better by tiring out your body and relieving stress and anxiety. The National Sleep Foundation recommends a minimum of 10 minutes of aerobic activity (preferably in the morning or afternoon) each day to improve sleep.18
Your gut health greatly influences your sleep. If you’re having problems dozing off, or staying asleep, try enhancing your gut microbiota by taking probiotics, exercising regularly, and eating a healthy diet. These lifestyle changes might just be the sleep aid you’ve been looking for!
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